Zone account director Sophie Bliss explains why feelings of imposter syndrome are part of career progression and nothing to be ashamed of…
I remember hearing about imposter syndrome and feeling so relieved. It was early in my career, and I was recruiting people into an industry I would eventually choose as my own.
I was a fraud. Straight out of university and interviewing strategy directors and designers about why they were good fits for top creative agencies in London — the cheek! I am not going to pretend I enjoyed the world of recruitment, but I did learn a lot. I learned how to look at people in the eye, talk on the phone and write emails — this all seems self-explanatory now but for a Classics and Philosophy grad whose only work experience up to that point had been summer jobs in a cheese factory, I was very green in an office environment.
I thought after I left London and recruitment (neither of which was a good fit) I would shake off that imposter syndrome, but it never leaves you. Even in a job where I feel confident in my abilities and experience, I still question myself and often hide behind other people who I think are more qualified.
Although the term imposter syndrome was a relief to hear early on in my career, I feel like it has held me back — always in the back of my mind nagging me. If I had never heard it, would I still feel as though I am just pretending to do a good job? Impossible to know.
The key for me is good management. I have been incredibly lucky to have had excellent line managers and mentors. They have all been completely honest and open about themselves, which in turn has put me at ease to do the same. It turns out we are all imposters of a sort and hearing ways in which they felt the same has helped me hugely. Is anyone born to be a client services person in a digital agency? No, that would be weird. But we do grow into that person. That growth is a part of career progression and rather than imposter syndrome, it is a normal part of development.
I feel like this applies to everyday life too. When I had my first child I felt like I was ‘playing mum’ and still do a lot of the time, even with my second. Are we ever 100% confident and comfortable in our own skin? I think the people who claim that they are (and a lot of the time, they are men) are not being truthful to themselves and if they are, they are incredibly lucky! But that unease can, a lot of the time, mean that we learn quicker, adapt to situations better and have more empathy.
Rather than trying to shake the imposter syndrome I think a healthier approach is to admit that everyone feels a bit fraudulent at one point or another, whether in work or outside of it, and that’s OK.
Here are a few practical ways to accept the imposter syndrome but also be good at your job:
- Use phrases like: “I am not a technical data expert but having managed similar projects before I think we should do X.” This means that you’re being honest about your abilities without diminishing your expertise
- Honesty is key. If you don’t understand something, ask. More times than you think half the people in the room won’t have understood either and you look like the confident one
- Try to keep it simple and let others speak. Using jargon, talking too much and getting caught on a circular topic are classic things that we all do when we want to feel confident. Rather than speaking for 10 minutes at the start of a presentation, ask your team to introduce themselves just to make you feel like you are in control
- Be open to different people’s style of working. I have found that diversity in the workplace has massively helped me to find my management and working style. One colleague presents in a very formal way and the other very relaxed, one’s management style is more structured, the other more ad hoc. All have their advantages but it’s best to find your own style and make it work for you
Read the other blogs in our #BreakTheBias series: